It’s a piece of gear that you need to trust in the most difficult times and choosing the right brand can be daunting – but it doesn’t have to be! I’ll breakdown dry bag uses and then get into which bags will suit your backpacking needs.
What are dry bags or dry sacks?
Dry bags, also called dry sacks, are bags designed to keep contents within the bag dry, even when submerged underwater. Dry bags use a roll top closing mechanism with a buckle clip rather than a zipper or drawstring mechanism.
Drybags are typically used in outdoor water activities such as canoeing, kayaking, rafting, and boating. However, they are great in any wet outdoor environment and serve multiple purposes in the backpacking world.
What purpose do they serve other than keeping water out?
This is my favorite secondary purpose for dry bags. Light and ultralight backpacks today have little in terms of pockets and compartments for organizing the contents of your pack. Having multiple dry bags of different sizes and colors makes remembering and finding gear hassle-free.
Dry bags by design, when properly packed and sealed create a round circle of material that can be attached to a bear line. Many also have additional clips on the bag for this specific purpose.
This is used less frequently in backpacking because a normal trash compactor bag is more practical. If backpacking in places with extreme river crossings or where your pack could be fully submerged, this would be a great use for a dry bag. Even the most waterproof of packs degrade overtime from use and are far from waterproof when submerged, unlike a dry bag.
Sleeping Bag Stuff Sack
Your sleeping bag will typically come with a compression sack but it won’t keep the water out or be water-resistant. If your sleeping bag didn’t come with a compression sack or you’re looking to waterproof your back check out the specific compression sacks here.
This is a good secondary use to a dry bag you are using to store clothing or outerwear in. The dry bag will hold additional air if not squeezed entirely out and if you trap a little bit of that air when you roll up the bag, it will give you some additional loft. This may actually wear out your dry bag and put strain on the clips so I would recommend taking a look at specifically made light weight backpacking pillows here.
What size is right for me?
Does size matter? Obviously here for sure! The right size for you will depend on what you are looking to use the dry bag for. It’s sometimes difficult to decide when purchasing online and the only measurements you’re getting are in liters. Below are some uses for different size dry bags but are not limited to:
1 Liter – Phone, snacks, and or wallet
2 Liter – Snacks, small clothing like gloves and hat, first aid
4 Liter – Some larger clothing including a rain shell or wind breaker
8 Liter – Two-season sleeping bag, possibly a high end three-season or clothing/food
13 Liter – About 4 days of food or all your backpacking clothing
20 Liter – Three-season sleeping bag or around 5+ days of food
35 Liter – Pack liner or entire pack contents if on a canoe trip
The bags I use for backpacking have all been in the 8- or 13-liter size. My 8-liter bag I use to hold all electronics, first aid, and toiletries. It’s also large enough that when it rains, I can fit my Sony camera in it with ease. Without needing to store my camera, I would use a 2- or 4-liter size for those items. My 13-liter bags consist of one for all my clothing and the other for all my food. The 13-liter bag is plenty of room for backpacking clothes, this fits my shell and puffy as well when needed. I’ve loaded up my food bag with up to 5 days of food and the bag has no issues supporting that weight on hangs.
Proper dry bag use
This is a critical step for getting the bag to work properly and avoiding leaks. When packing a dry bag put all gear on the bottom and let is settle. Fold the bag at the point where the gear creates a crease and gentle push down to let as much air as possible out of the bag. Without letting much air back in, pinch the light material top to the banded material top and perform a single roll. Make sure on this first roll there are no creases and the buckles are out of the way. From there complete a minimum of two more rolls of the material before locking the buckles together.
Choosing the right dry bag
The most common materials for dry bags today are nylon and dyneema. Dyneema can save a small amount of weight, but will come at a price of more than double the cost of a nylon bag. Both will perform excellent against liquid and moisture and the weight savings have never been enough for me to go with dyneema bags. The key for all bags is to make sure they have a roll top closing mechanism. Anything with a drawstring or zipper may only protect against moisture and not withstand being submerged in water.
The brand I trust the most for dry bags and have tested with little issue and no water leakage is Sea to Summit. They have plenty of great style but my favorite three for backpacking are below:
What I love about this bag is the range of sizes, the price point, and the durability. The color options are an added bonus and something I value by Sea To Summit because it makes organizing gear mentally an easier task. Like oh, neon green means clothes, light blue is food, etc. Easy Peasy!
This lightweight model is perfect for backpacking and fits a bag that needs a little bit more durability, something like a bear bag.
This is my other favorite style of dry bags made by Sea to Summit. These models are the ultralight version of the style above. They have a significant weight savings for almost no price increase. It's still a nylon fabric but made with a different manufacturing process.
This bag is perfect for anything that won't be exposed to elements in your pack like a clothing bag or first-aid and toiletry bag.
This model is the Ultra-SIL compression sack which is most commonly used for an item like a sleeping bag. Sea to Summit makes these in the normal lightweight material as well but I think the weight savings here are worth the price.
These are also good to be used with your clothing and especially any winter gear that would benefit from compression in your pack.
Have you tried another brand and think others would like to know? Drop a comment below!
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